Good things do indeed come in small packages! Nuts and seeds are often overlooked as important health foods, but they pack a mighty punch fighting disease, including the nation’s number one killer, heart disease. If you are worried that nuts and seeds are too fattening to be included in your diet, you shouldn’t. While you should definitely avoid eating nuts to excess, adding nuts to the diet helps with weight maintenance and can improve insulin sensitivity, which could help prevent or reverse diabetes.1 One to one and a half ounces daily is usually appropriate for women trying to lose weight and about 1.5 to 2 ounces for overweight men. Slim, physically active people who can use extra calories can eat nuts in larger amounts.
Food for Thought
Eating five or more servings of nuts per week is estimated to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 35%,2 protects against sudden cardiac death, reduces blood cholesterol and inflammation, aids in weight loss and improves insulin sensitivity. Consider the following benefits when deciding to add nuts and seeds to your diet:
- Daily nut consumption is associated with longevity. In an analysis of studies that lasted at least 5 years, each daily serving of nuts was associated with a 39% reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 27% reduction in risk of death from all causes.3
- Eating nuts and seeds with leafy greens can enhance the body’s absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like lycopene and beta-carotene from the greens.4 Therefore, a nut-based dressing is a good way to acquire more nutrients from you salads.
- Nuts and seeds help to lower LDL cholesterol,5 in part because they are rich in plant sterols, which promote removal of cholesterol from the digestive tract.
- Studies have found that adding nuts to the diet improves vascular function.6, 7
- Nuts and seeds supply their own spectrum of nutrients including fiber, tocopherols (vitamin E), folate, minerals, and antioxidants. 8, 9
Despite being high in calories, including nuts in one’s diet is associated with a smaller waist circumference and a reduced risk of obesity.10, 11
- Nuts may also help to prevent cancer and type 2 diabetes, and maintain brain health with age. 12, 13
Guide to Properties of Nut and Seed Varieties
Be sure that any nuts you eat are unsalted and raw, or lightly toasted. Roasting nuts lessens their nutritional value and allows acylamide to form, a potentially harmful carcinogen.
- Almonds are rich in antioxidants, allowing them to reduce markers of oxidative stress and oxidation of LDL cholesterol.14, 15
- Walnuts are especially rich in phenols (a class of antioxidants).15, 16There is evidence that walnuts may protect the brain from inflammation, helping to maintain good cognitive function.17
- Pistachios and Mediterranean pine nuts have the highest plant sterol content of all the nuts, phytochemicals that help to lower cholesterol levels.
- Mediterranean pine nut phytochemicalshave been shown to curb appetite by increasing hormones that produce satiety signals.18
- Flaxseeds have been found in many clinical trials to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.19
- Flax, hemp, and chia seeds and walnuts are extremely rich sources of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. a precursor of DHA and EPA, which are beneficial for heart and brain health.
- Pumpkin seedsand sesame seeds are especially rich in the minerals zinc and iron and sesame seeds are also very high in calcium.
- Chia seeds are a source of soluble fiber, which helps to reduce cholesterol levels.
- Flax, chia and sesame seeds are rich in lignans, plant estrogens that protect against breast cancer.
- Rajaram S, Sabate J. Nuts, body weight and insulin resistance. Br J Nutr 2006, 96 Suppl 2:S79-86.
- Kris-Etherton PM, Hu FB, Ros E, Sabate J. The role of tree nuts and peanuts in the prevention of coronary heart disease: multiple potential mechanisms. J Nutr 2008, 138:1746S-1751S.
- Grosso G, Yang J, Marventano S, et al. Nut consumption on all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2015, 101:783-793.
- Brown MJ, Ferruzzi MG, Nguyen ML, et al. Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. Am J Clin Nutr 2004, 80:396-403.
- Del Gobbo LC, Falk MC, Feldman R, et al. Effects of tree nuts on blood lipids, apolipoproteins, and blood pressure: systematic review, meta-analysis, and dose-response of 61 controlled intervention trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2015, 102:1347-1356.
- Katz DL, Davidhi A, Ma Y, et al. Effects of walnuts on endothelial function in overweight adults with visceral obesity: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial. J Am Coll Nutr 2012, 31:415-423.
- Sari I, Baltaci Y, Bagci C, et al. Effect of pistachio diet on lipid parameters, endothelial function, inflammation, and oxidative status: a prospective study. Nutrition 2010, 26:399-404.
- Falasca M, Casari I, Maffucci T. Cancer chemoprevention with nuts. J Natl Cancer Inst 2014, 106.
- O'Neil CE, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL, 3rd. Tree nut consumption is associated with better nutrient adequacy and diet quality in adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010. Nutrients 2015, 7:595-607.
- O'Neil CE, Fulgoni VL, 3rd, Nicklas TA. Tree Nut consumption is associated with better adiposity measures and cardiovascular and metabolic syndrome health risk factors in U.S. Adults: NHANES 2005-2010. Nutr J 2015, 14:64.
- Jackson CL, Hu FB. Long-term associations of nut consumption with body weight and obesity. Am J Clin Nutr 2014, 100 Suppl 1:408S-411S.
- Wu L, Wang Z, Zhu J, et al. Nut consumption and risk of cancer and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev 2015, 73:409-425.
- O'Brien J, Okereke O, Devore E, et al. Long-term intake of nuts in relation to cognitive function in older women. J Nutr Health Aging 2014, 18:496-502.
- Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Marchie A, et al. Almonds reduce biomarkers of lipid peroxidation in older hyperlipidemic subjects. J Nutr 2008, 138:908-913.
- Bolling BW, Chen CY, McKay DL, Blumberg JB. Tree nut phytochemicals: composition, antioxidant capacity, bioactivity, impact factors. A systematic review of almonds, Brazils, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts. Nutr Res Rev 2011:1-32.
- Vinson JA, Cai Y. Nuts, especially walnuts, have both antioxidant quantity and efficacy and exhibit significant potential health benefits. Food Funct 2011.
- Poulose SM, Miller MG, Shukitt-Hale B. Role of walnuts in maintaining brain health with age. J Nutr 2014, 144:561S-566S.
- Pasman WJ, Heimerikx J, Rubingh CM, et al. The effect of Korean pine nut oil on in vitro CCK release, on appetite sensations and on gut hormones in post-menopausal overweight women. Lipids in Health and Disease 2008, 7:10.
- Khalesi S, Irwin C, Schubert M. Flaxseed consumption may reduce blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled trials. J Nutr 2015, 145:758-765.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a family physician, New York Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods. Dr. Fuhrman is an internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, and has appeared on hundreds of radio a...
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